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Vonage Holdings Corp. Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2013 Results

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Vonage, a VT2142 and a RTP300, My Experiences - A Detailed Review
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Baby Bells Falling Out Of Favor


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October 18, 2005

By Justin Hyde

As the largest U.S. telecommunications companies report their earnings over the next couple of weeks, they will face a tide of negative sentiment from investors and analysts who see little to cheer about.

Shares of Verizon Communications Inc., SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. have fallen over the past couple of weeks to their lowest levels in nearly two years, thanks to a farrago of disappointing data and investors' worries.

With the benefits of a booming U.S. market for wireless services already priced in, most industry watchers say only a big shock will change Wall Street's thinking.

"The fundamentals ... just don't look very attractive," said Dan Genter, president and CEO of RNC Genter Capital Management, a Los Angeles-based fund that owns BellSouth and SBC. "The secular challenges to the Baby Bells really have not improved."

Among the top concerns:

* Worries about growing competition for basic telephone service, still the Bells' most profitable business. Cable telephone companies are expanding their efforts, with Comcast Corp. rolling out voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) service and independents such as Vonage and Skype capturing investors' attention.

* Slowing wireless growth. With U.S. market penetration for wireless telephone service closing in on 70 percent, many analysts expect wireless growth to ease over the next several quarters.

* Rising capital spending. Verizon has boosted capital spending 15 percent this year to fund network upgrades and the launch of its video service. SBC has also committed to a less-expansive upgrade of its network to sell video.

* Health-care and pension costs. The bankruptcy of auto parts supplier Delphi Corp. has raised the profile of the costs of health care for the Bells' retired union workers. Morgan Stanley analyst Simon Flannery calculates that the Bells will pay $25 billion in retiree health care costs over the next six years, and warns that estimate may be low.

"The potentially calming effect of a steady (third quarter) from a financial standpoint may be lost as a worried market parses results for traces of Comcast's Voip or a maturing wireless market," said Banc of America analyst David Barden.

FALLING BEHIND

Of the three Bells, Verizon shares have suffered the most, falling 16 percent behind the S&P 500 since the end of the first quarter and trading at their lowest prices in three years.

Those prices give Verizon an enterprise value of about 4.3 times next's year consensus estimated operating earnings, compared with BellSouth's 4.9, SBC's 5 and an average of 9 for the S&P 500. Goldman Sachs analyst Jason Armstrong said the "steep discounts" of the Bells' shares to the market "balances the fundamental risk versus the expected growth."

The shares could have fallen further except for their high dividend payments; all three have dividend yields that places them in the top 25 of the S&P 500. Gentler said the dividends were his main reason for owning BellSouth and SBC, but that he was concerned SBC might be forced to cut its dividend soon.

The Bells are expected to report strong numbers from their wireless arms -- Verizon Wireless and Cingular, the SBC-BellSouth joint venture -- as well as a rebound in sales of high-speed Internet lines after a disappointing second quarter.

Investors will also likely be looking for an update on the Bells' network upgrades and video plans. Verizon has launched its Fios video services in a couple of markets, while SBC has said it will launch its service in one area by the end of the year.

All three companies have said offering pay television services was essential to combating cable companies offering voice, data and TV packages in one bill. But Morgan Stanley's Flannery said in a research note that investors are "increasingly concerned that there will be poor or negative returns" on the Bells' TV plans.




 
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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See www.vonage.com/911 for details.

** Certain call types excluded.

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